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For video gamers, age is more than just a number

By Josh Korr, Times Staff Writer
Published November 22, 2007


When it comes to buying video games for the younger set, I'm a firm believer in knowing your own children's tastes, limits and maturity levels. Age ratings are useful guidelines - 5-year-olds probably shouldn't be playing World War II shooters - but after a certain age, only you and your children can tell what they're ready for.

If you don't know anything about games, it's time to start learning. Have your kids show you what they're playing. Try it out yourself. And talk to your kids about why they like the games they do. They'll appreciate your interest, and you'll get a better idea of what's appropriate for them.

In the meantime, here are some recommendations for this year's best in age-appropriate gaming.

Systems

The best systems for younger players are Nintendo's Wii $250 and handheld DS Lite ($130). Sony's handheld PlayStation Portable (PSP, $170) is geared more toward tweens and up. The Xbox 360 ($280, $350 and $450 versions) has the best overall games, but it's not a good choice for young children. The PlayStation 3 ($400 and $500 versions) is the worst of the lot - few good exclusive games (you can find most on the Xbox 360), overpriced - for any age. The PlayStation 2 ($130) is a fine standby, but it's not getting any newer.

6 and younger

Most games for this age are versions of cartoons or animated movies and aren't particularly imaginative. For something different, try Drawn to Life (DS, rated E for everyone, $30). An introduction to Super Mario-style games, Drawn to Life lets the player draw the main character and other parts of the game. It's a lot of fun seeing your poorly drawn skeleton jump on cloud platforms you designed.

I hate to recommend anything involving Jar Jar Binks, but kids will probably have fun with Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga (rated E 10+ but fine for children of any age who have seen the movies, $35 for DS and $50 for other systems). The game re-creates the sci-fi epic, including the horrendous parts I-III, in cute Lego form.

7 to 11

The Mario and Zelda games are always good bets for any age. This year brought Super Paper Mario (Wii, rated E, $50), which has a cool effect that turns the game world from 2-D to 3-D; Super Mario Galaxy (Wii, rated E, $50), the first full-blown Mario adventure in years; and The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS, rated E, $35), which uses the DS's stylus and touch screen to control the action.

The Wii has a ton of games made up of short mini games. Many of these - like Cooking Mama: Cook Off (Wii, rated E, $50), WarioWare: Smooth Moves (Wii, rated E, $50) and Playground (Wii, rated E, $40) - are interesting for a few minutes but get old pretty fast. Better bets are Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 (Wii, rated E 10+, $50), the sequel to last year's hilarious, insane-bunny game (or pick up the original for $30), and Mario Party 8 (Wii, rated E, $50), a video board game filled with fun mini games.

Sports fans who aren't quite ready for the complexity of today's ultra-realistic games should check out MLB Power Pros (rated E, $40 for Wii and $30 for PlayStation 2), which reimagines Major Leaguers as cute anime-style characters.

12 and up

Gamers who have graduated from Mario have a fun alternative in Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction (PS3, rated E 10+, $60) and Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters (PSP, rated E 10+, $40).

Music fans get a double dose of awesomeness this year with Guitar Hero III and Rock Band. The Guitar Hero series is an impressively realistic guitar simulator featuring classic and modern rock songs, while Rock Band takes the concept even further with drums and a mike for singing. The only catch is the price: Guitar Hero III costs about $100, including a guitar controller, for the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions (the PS2 bundle is $90, and the game alone is $60 for the newer systems). Rock Band - including the game, a guitar, drum kit and mike - will set you back $170. But Rock Band will probably be the most fun of any game this year, and it's perfect for family game time.

Home karaoke nights, sans guitar, arrive with SingStar 80s and SingStar Amped (PS2, rated E 10+, $50 for game with two microphones, $30 for game alone). Both are better than last year's Pop and Rocks versions. Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party (rated E 10+, $70 including dance pad) brings the popular, if slightly dated, dancing game to the Wii.

Puzzle-minded gamers should check out Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure (Wii, rated E, $40), which features an aspiring kid pirate and his flying monkey sidekick. Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations (DS, rated T for teen, $30) is a kind of Encyclopedia Brown/Law and Order hybrid (or try the nearly identical previous versions of Phoenix Wright for $15). Crush (PSP, rated E 10+, $30) takes Super Paper Mario's perspective-flipping to another level.

Josh Korr can be reached at (727) 892-2939 or jkorr@sptimes.com.